This is how bad I am about blog posting. I legit have a half dozen posts that I have started and not completed. So here goes. A lot of information to take in here… hopefully it makes sense!
I’m not one of those “people“ that is obsessed with Disney and only vacations there. I mean, well, maybe I am compared to others. We have been going annually, so I guess that makes me one of those “people.” We travel other places and we like to go to more relaxing, non-crowded spots, but, let’s be honest, we have kids and we are able to do our trips relatively inexpensive. The reason I blog mostly about Disney is because it seems to be a hot topic of conversation with people. Most think it is out of their price range or a once-in-a-lifetime thing because of the cost. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be.
a month six months seven months ago, we came back from our second Disney trip that was paid for primarily through points and credit card rewards (to clarify, second trip primarily paid through points – not second Disney trip). We’ve become much more savvy in navigating the points/miles world and this time it was easier for us to be able to book our trip on points (because we had more of them and more options) and we did pretty well in the process.
A step back…
So prior to our October 2017 trip, we had taken a trip in September 2016 which I blogged about here and here. I honestly didn’t think we would be getting back to Disney for at least 18 months, because I needed to get enough points together to make it happen. But a few things happened that made achieving this trip even easier.
Disney Chase Visa referrals = Cheap (Free) Disney Park Tickets
On our first trip, I offset the cost of our Disney park tickets with a signup bonus from my Chase Sapphire Preferred card (50,000 points signup bonus + 10,000 point authorized user bonus + spending ended up about 66,000 points) so I used the travel statement credit option of $660 on our park tickets. At the time, it seemed like a great option (and instead of paying the $660 out of pocket it was), but now I know the true value of those 66,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and I wouldn’t do that again (booking travel, or transferring the points to other travel partners, provides a better value for your points than redeeming for cash). ANYWAY, this time, I had been talking with folks in different Facebook groups as well as through my blog (and friends, too), about the no-annual fee Disney Chase visa. If you spend $500,you get a $200
gift card (UPDATE: it is now a statement credit, but either way, free $200, and this one’s more flexible), and I received $50 for every referral (UPDATE: it’s now $100 per referral. This is a great referral program that works for anyone! Just go to chasereferafriend.com and plug in your account information – it generates a referral link). Disney allows you to earn up to $500 each calendar year in referrals, and I had about $350 earned from 2016 and, in the first couple months of 2017, I earned an additional $450 (I know, I couldn’t believe it either until I saw my statement – but it’s a great product and so many people are taking advantage of it!). I thought, “wow, we are well on our way to paying for our park tickets.” My husband didn’t have the card, yet, so I used my last referral allotment to refer him to the card, so he could, in turn, get the $200 gift card and I could get a $50 bonus for referring him.
So, now, we’re up to $1050 in Disney dollars and gift cards, enough for two 7-day parkhoppers, with about $20 leftover.
We only had to pay out of pocket for my son’s ticket (my daughter is under 2, and any child under 3 is admitted free). We purchased my son’s ticket through Undercover Tourist, which I highly recommend using for any Disney ticket purchases. Depending on the level of ticket purchased, you can save a significant amount of cash. Additionally, my American Express card has different offers with retailers from time to time, and they had an offer with Undercover tourist (at least once, sometimes twice a year), where if you made a $150+ purchase you get $30 back on your statement. I knew I would be making the purchase anyway, so I purchased during this offer period. The ticket cost me around $420 ($450 – $30 back). The same ticket, with taxes, from Disney would have been about $500. So all in, I was able to purchase three 7-day park hoppers (2 adults, and 1 child) for $420, saving me more than $1,000!
My husband was able to get a few more referral bonuses before we went on our trip (my mom signed up for one, and a couple others), and we ended up with about $180 in spending money between referral bonuses and the few dollars we received from meeting the minimum spend ($500 =$5). I don’t just do the referrals for the money – it is a really great offer for the minimum spend!
6 more free nights at the Walt Disney World Dolphin
In January of 2017, I decided that I wanted to signup for a couple new cards to secure enough SPG points to stay at the Dolphin again. Since the last time that I signed up for a card (the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card), Marriott and Starwood Preferred Guest merged, and now Marriott and Starwood points are transferable. This means that you have even more options for accruing SPG or Marriott points – now you can sign up for the Marriott Chase Visa, spend $3,000, and get 75,000 Marriott points – which transfers 3:1 to SPG’s program – so 75,000 Marriott points will yield 25,000 SPG points. It’s very easy to sign up for both programs online and link them so you can transfer your points between programs, and the transfers are instantaneous.
I decided to sign up for the Marriott Chase Business card (I own a few rental properties, and being a landlord counts as a small business) to get the signup bonus. This is another post for another time, but my reason for signing up for the business card vs. the standard card was strategic (it doesn’t count on your personal credit because it is a business card, and if you are planning on signing up for any other chase cards, you want to keep your personal cards under a total of 5 new cards in 24 months), as it doesn’t count against me on my credit. Once I met the minimum spend, I transferred my Marriott points to my SPG account. Then, Starwood Preferred Guest was having an increased signup offer on their American Express card (35,000 points vs. the standard 25,000). I already had signed up for the SPG AmEx (and subsequently canceled it when it came time to pay the annual fee), but I didn’t have the SPG Business card. So I signed up for the SPG Business AmEx, made the minimum spend and got 35,000 points. I have since become smarter about which cards I use for everyday spend and the SPG Business AmEx is my go-to. The value of points on this card is significantly higher than others (for example, one night at the Dolphin will cost you
10,000 SPG points UPDATE 3/18: Now it is 12,000 SPG points, but the fifth night is free – so 48,000 points for 5 nights). After the two credit card signups I had more than enough points for my 6 nights at the Dolphin.. I was only in the hole for the $28/night resort fee ($168).
Moving on to airfare…
Around December 2016, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card had been out for a few months and in the points game it was the “it card” to have. Everyone was talking about it – it provided a 100,000 point signup bonus after spending $4,000 in three months (RIP, high signup bonus, RIP…). The card came with a hefty annual fee – $450 – but at the time it was offering a $300 annual travel credit – and the credit was calendar year, not annual (it has since changed to annual – so you will get your travel credit the same month each year). My husband opened the card in December, so he had a $300 2016 credit to use, and another in 2017. We effectively got $600 worth of travel credit out of the $450 fee, on top of the 100,000 (!!!) Chase Ultimate Rewards points. We planned to use these points to transfer to Southwest to fly to Orlando.
When the time came to purchase airfare, I was disappointed in how many points (and likewise, how much in dollars) Southwest was charging for the flights. It was a lot, and although we had enough, it was going to wipe us out of Chase Ultimate Rewards, and for Orlando, I just didn’t think it was worth it (there are too many other options to use our Ultimate Rewards points to blow it all on some flights to Orlando – which should be cheap). So I signed up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards visa (they have a few different ones, and I signed up for a different one than last time), and got a 60,000 point bonus. So we reluctantly paid a lot of points (but not cash) for our tickets and kept on with the planning. I still kept an eye on flight prices though, because Southwest will refund your points if you cancel, and I felt my points were better spent flying somewhere else than a two-hour flight to Orlando when everyone flies to Orlando (Philadelphia has a competitive market for Orlando flights – with at least 4 or 5 different carriers with tons of nonstop flight options).
A week before our trip, I saw Spirit was offering a $26 fare per person to Orlando, and I liked the flight time even better than our Southwest offering. So I booked our flights on Spirit, and canceled our Southwest flight (we kept our one way flight back from Orlando to Philadelphia).
Our one-way Spirit flight cost us only $194 (4 tickets and 3 checked bags) on Spirit…compared tot the 63,500 rapid rewards points the Southwest flight was going to cost. At even the most modest value you’re talking about $635, but probably closer to $900. Southwest credited my account back right away, it was so easy. We love Southwest for that reason (but don’t mind flying Spirit when the price is right, and this price was RIGHT).
All tolled, we spent $194 and about 40,000 Rapid Rewards(for the flight back) to fly four people roundtrip to Orlando. BOTTOM LINE: Points are not always your best option for flights. If you plan on doing any other flying, you can bank those points for another trip and choose another option for Orlando.
Fall break trips to Cancun are looking really nice right now, and I’m feeling glad that I didn’t blow all of my Southwest Rapid Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards on a stupid flight to Orlando.
Just like last time… realize 6 nights at the Dolphin aren’t enough, and splurge for one night at a Disney deluxe resort so you can get magic bands and magical express – AKA How we stayed at the Polynesian for $260/night
Feeling comfortable because I’ve done this before, I logged onto Mouseowners.com and posted that I was looking for one night at a Disney Vacation club studio on the first night of our trip. There are plenty of people willing to sell you a few of their points, and for prime properties (Villas at Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Yacht club, Bay Lake Tower at the Contemporary) they often ask for $15 or $16/point.. this is the same that you would pay through reputable brokers like DVC Rental Store and David’s Vacation Rentals, and I’m on here to get a deal (not to spend $15-$16/point). So a couple people sent me messages and said the only thing left in all of Disney Vacation club studios for that night was the Polynesian.
I’m sorry, EXCUSE ME, did you say the Polynesian? As in, the only thing to top this might be the Grand Floridian, MAYBE, but we’re talking newly renovated, fireworks-from-the-beach Polynesian that I literally NEVER EVER thought that I would ever get to stay at (because I’m way too cheap)? (Get it together, Melissa)..
Yes, the very same. They wanted $14/point, and I offered $13/point. DEAL. It ended up costing about $260, which is A LOT for me, but I took into account magical express (a savings for us of about $60 in shuttle costs) and magic bands (which Disney charges $12 for, and we got 5 for free), and the fact that it is the POLYNESIAN, and I was happy to oblige. DID WE JUST BOOK THE POLYNESIAN? WHAT??? For giggles, I checked to see what Disney wanted to charge me for that room. With taxes, it was over $600. Um, no, thank you. But thank you, DVC owner!
I spend a lot of time researching trips, it’s kind of my thing. I’m also a firm believer in grocery delivery service (in everyday life, as well as vacations). For this trip, I saved a ton of money by using Safeway’s grocery delivery service to the Dolphin. It was FREE, and the drivers do not accept tips, and they offered $20 off your first order. A win-win all around. I spent about $100 on groceries for breakfast, snacks, drinks and some lunches. It saved us a ton of money over breakfast at the hotel and snacks and drinks in the park/hotel, and when you’re at Disney, and getting to the park for rope drop (when the park opens) can make or break you, convenience is key.
Also, we have a few other methods that work really well with saving money on food at Disney – we still had about $180 in Disney dollars to spend on food while there, and we have a couple other tips we use. There’s one thing that I do often at quick service restaurants — you’re hot, and you’re not terribly hungry… order a kids meal. It is significantly cheaper, and often the portions work fine for adults, and it includes a drink. For our family of four (kids are 2 and 5), one adult meal and one kids meal is plenty.
Soup to nuts.. this trip probably cost us about $1500 with food, airfare, hotel and (3) park tickets. We also signed up for a total of 4 cards – 3 for me (SPG, Marriott, Southwest), 1 for hubs (Disney visa) – over the course of a year, and we still have points leftover for future travels. Retail value of this trip… if I could guess.. was probably close to $6000. $1500 wouldn’t even get you a week at a beach house at the Jersey Shore (let alone dining). If you would like assistance in saving money on your next trip, feel free to reach out. It might seem complicated – but just picking a few things to do can really help you save (sign up for the Disney Visa – or book your hotel through a DVC owner – or signup for one airline card to get free airfare).
One card could save you hundreds – sometimes well over $1,000!